Please reload

Search By Tags
Search By Categories

Rules of Thumb (ROT)

May 10, 2020


Some Simple Guides


This page provides some tips and insights I've come across. A search on Google for “Rule of Thumb” leads to the following definition:


“A broadly accurate guide or principle, based on experience or practice rather than theory.”





Best Wastewater Treatment Option Based on Organic Concentration


Here is a favorite, very handy, Rule-Of-Thumb, quoted from the excellent reference provided below:


"Aerobic cultures of microorganisms are particularly suitable for the removal of organic matter in the concentration range between 50 and 4,000 mg/L as biodegradable chemical oxygen demand (COD). At lower concentrations, carbon absorption is often more economical, although biochemical operations are being used for treatment of contaminated groundwaters that contain less than 50 mg/L of COD. Although they must often be followed by aerobic cultures to provide an effluent suitable for discharge, anaerobic cultures are frequently used for high strength wastewaters because they do not require oxygen, give you less excess biomass, and produce methane gas as a usable product. If the COD concentration to be removed is above 50,000 mg/L, however, then evaporation and incineration may be more economical. Anaerobic cultures are also used to treat wastewaters of moderate strength (down to ~1,000 mg/L as COD), and have been proposed for use with dilute wastewaters as well. It should be emphasized that the concentrations given are for soluble organic matter. Suspended or colloidal organic matter is often removed more easily from the main wastewater stream by physical or chemical means, and then treated in a concentrated form. However, mixtures of soluble, colloidal, and suspended organic matter are often treated by biochemical means." 


Source: Grady, C.P. Leslie Jr., Glen T Daigger, and Henry C. Lim. "Biological Wastewater Treatment." Second Edition. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1999. 



It should be emphasized that the concentrations given are for soluble organic matter.



Based on the quote above from Grady, Daigger, and Lim, here is my attempt to provide a simple tabulation of the information.




Here's another source of information to guide your decision-making based on the organic concentration of the wastewater to be treated.


Wastewater concentration is not, in itself, a technical barrier to the implementation of anaerobic treatment. In general terms, full-scale experience has shown that anaerobic treatment is most suitable for wastewaters with biodegradable Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) concentrations in the intermediate-to-high strength range from 2,000 to >20,000 mg COD/L.


Considerations Related to Wastewater Concentration


COD <1,000 to 2,000 mg/L

  • High-rate anaerobic treatment may be preferred

  • Residual COD may be relatively high after anaerobic treatment

  • Aerobic or physical/chemical post-treatment may be required

  • Economics my favor 100% aerobic treatment

  • Insufficient methane production for maintenance of reactor temperature


COD >20,000 mg/L

  • Low-rate anaerobic treatment may be preferred

  • Effluent quality may be poor unless biosolids are removed

  • Physical/chemical treatment options could be preferred


Since anaerobic processes leave a relatively high residual of undegraded organics in treated effluents, anerobic treatment alone rarely results in BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) removals of more than 80 to 90%. With very dilute wastewaters, such as municipal sewage, this value may be closer to 50%. Conversely, with very concentrated wastes, the total BOD removal efficiency achieved may be much higher, but the residual BOD concentration could still exceed several thousand mg/L.


For wastewaters with BODs or biodegradable CODs below 2,000 mg/L, aerobic processes predominate. Between 1,000 and 30,000 mg/L, anaerobic wastewater treatment technology can be applied in either low- or high-rate forms. For very concentrated wastes containing more than 20,000 ‒ 30,000 mg COD/L, or for high concentrations of suspended solids, low-rate anaerobic digestion is usually chosen.


To give you an idea of the difference between low- and high-rate digestion the authors state the following...


Anaerobic digestion is well known as a treatment process for high-strength wastes such as sludges and manures that contain elevated levels of suspended solids. When the majority of the organic material is insoluble, lengthy digestion periods are required to allow for the relatively slow biological process of hydrolysis and solubilization of the insoluble materials. Once solubilized, the dissolved organics can undergo further conversion to volatile organic acids and methane fairly rapidly. To permit anerobic digestion of particulates, total digester retention times of at least ten to twenty days are normal.


In contrast, high-rate anerobic treatment technologies are intended for wastewaters in which the organic pollutants are soluble. Since hydrolysis of organics is not required with soluble wastewaters, much faster conversion rates to methane can be obtained. This is one factor that has permitted the operation of high-rate anaerobic processes at retention time of less than eight hours.


If the ratio of total COD/soluble COD is greater than 1.0 for a given wastewater, complete removal of the COD can only be achieved by removing both soluble and particulate organics during treatment. High-rate anerobic processes do not provide adequate hydraulic retention time for digestion of most particulates.


Source: Malina, Joseph F., Jr. and Frederick G. Pohland. Design of Anaerobic Processes for the Treatment of Industrial and Municipal Wastes. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 1992.





Most of us are concerned with those things (solutes) added to water (the most common solvent) that are either soluble or insoluble. But you will also see the phrase "sparingly soluble" used and I've recently come across the best interpretation of these terms, taken from an excellent little book (shown below) I highly recommend for anyone who spends time in a laboratory. I quote the following from Mitchell's Laboratory Solutions book.


Solubility refers to the maximum amount of solute that dissolves in a given amount of solvent at a given temperature. Solubility is usually expressed by the number of grams of solute per 100 milliliters (mL) of solvent. Solubility, however, is also expressed in terms such as "soluble," sparingly soluble (or slightly soluble)," and "insoluble." These qualitative and somewhat subjective terms. As a guideline to these terms, not a strict definition, consider that a substance is:


(1) "soluble", if more than 1.0 gram of the substance dissolves in 100 mL of solvent;


(2) "sparingly soluble", if 0.1 to 1.0 gram of the substance dissolves in 100 mL of solvent;


(3) "insoluble", if less than 0.1 gram of the substance dissolves in 100 mL of solvent.


When using solubility tables, a fourth term may be found: “decomposes.” A few substances will decompose when added to a solvent; the mixture will break down into two or more simpler substances; thus undergoing a chemical change. When a substance dissolves it is going through a physical change, but when it decomposes it is going through a chemical change. When a substance has decomposed, it no longer has the same chemical properties it did before decomposition because it no longer is the same chemical. Hydrogen peroxide, for example, decomposes to water and oxygen as shown in the equation below. 



A dilute solution contains only a small amount of solute, whereas a concentrated solution contains a larger amount of solute for a given amount of solvent. The terms dilute and concentrated are relative, and therefore their use is somewhat ambiguous.


For a small but important set of chemicals, however, the term concentrated does have a definite meaning. These chemicals are all common acids and bases and usually exist in aqueous solution or as nearly pure liquids. For these chemicals, the term concentrated refers only to the typical values shown in the following table.



Source: Mitchell, Sharon Grobe. "Laboratory Solutions for the science classroom ." Batavia, Illinois: Flinn Scientific, 1995.




In addition to the limited categorization of solubility provided above, here's a more detailed breakdown reproduced from Sigma-Aldrich's website.





Effect of Temperature on Microbial Growth


In process control, accurate temperature measurements are helpful in evaluating process performance because temperature is one of the most important factors affecting microbial growth. Generally stated, the rate of microbial growth doubles for every 10 degree C increase in temperature within the specific temperature range of the microbe.


Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Process Control Manual for Aerobic Biological Wastewater Treatment Facilities." EPA-430/9-77-006. March 1977.


An important point to note in the statement above is within the specific temperature range of the microbe.


Activated sludge systems typically operate in the Mesophilic range (see table below), though some industrial systems push into the Thermophilic range. What this means is that beginning at a temperature of 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) for the Mesophilic range, an increase in temperature in the bioreactor to 86 degrees F (an increase from 20 to 30 degrees C) will result in a doubling of bacterial growth. But this does not mean that a reduction in temperature to 50 degrees F (decreasing from 20 to 10 degrees C) will cause a 50% reduction in bacterial growth because 50 degrees F (or 10 degrees C) is outside the range for which this oft-stated temperature rule-of-thumb applies.



It should also be recognized that as the temperature in the bioreactor increases above 95 degrees F (35 degrees C), the growth rate doubling effect per 10 degree C increase will not continue to hold due to the high-temperature stress bacteria are being subjected to, a statement I am making based on my experience. To be clear, the temperature classification table reproduced above states the "optimum" temperature range for Mesophilic bacteria to be 25 to 40 degrees C (77 to 104 degrees F), but I have seen repeatedly that as the temperature climbs above 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) in the bioreactor, plant operating conditions will begin to deteriorate as evidenced but an increase in small, dispersed solids being lost from the secondary clarifier. 


For a more in-depth analysis of temperature please go to my blog post entitled "Wastewater Temperature."


TDS and Conductivity


The relationship between TDS (total dissolved solids) and conductivity depends on the water chemistry. For example, 1,000 mg/L of NaCl will give a different conductivity than 1,000 mg/L of MgSO4. The very rough rule of thumb is: TDS, mg/L × 1.6 = Conductivity (µS/cm). The factor of 1.6 used in the equation has a typical range of 1.4 to 1.8, though wider variations are certainly possible.


When possible, the best correlation is developed from the analysis of a specific water or waste stream for both conductivity and TDS from which a specific correlation factor is produced. Then, if the water chemistry remains fairly constant, conductivity can serve as a good indication of TDS. If the water chemistry changes significantly, the rule of thumb will not work.


Carbon Adsorption


Activated carbons, both powdered and granular, are made from a wide variety of carbonaceous starting materials: coals (anthracite, bituminous, lignite), wood, peat, coconut shells, etc. They are manufactured in such a way that they have a tremendous network of pores inside, and the total surface area inside such carbons is typically 500 to 1,500 square meters per gram, a huge amount. It is this extensive surface on which adsorption of organics can occur. Adsorption amounts up to as high as 0.30 g organic/g carbon are not unusual. 


Source: Cooney, David O. "Adsorption Design for Wastewater Treatment." Boston: Lewis Publishers, 1999.


Heavy Metals Impact on Activated Sludge


The table shown below, which can be found in another location on this site, is from a 1977 EPA manual called "Process Control Manual for Aerobic Biological Wastewater Treatment Facilities." I have reproduced the information which shows the allowable concentrations of 13 metals in the influent to an activated sludge process. I know a data of 1977 might be considered to be too out-of-date but this is the only source for this type of information I've been able to come across.


Activated Sludge Table


Below is a handy table reproduced from Metcalf & Eddy's Wastewater Engineering Treatment and Reuse textbook. If you click on the image below the table will open as a full-size page in the form of a PDF file for easier viewing and printing.





Please reload

Search By Tags

For questions or comments send email to